This Winter Walk

This poem was inspired by a wonderful family walk in London’s Greenwich Park yesterday, after a period of isolation
I'm grateful for this winter walk,
When side by side, we stroll and talk,
When all the world is gripped with fear,
And bad report is everywhere,
To see that earth and sky still meet,
And feel the ground beneath my feet.

I'm grateful for this memory,
Of city-scape, and take-out tea,
I'm grateful for this outdoor space,
The cheery smile upon your face,
I'm grateful that you're here with me,
For momentary normalcy.

I'm grateful for this chance to be
Outside, with you, alive and free!
When all the world must lock away,
I'm grateful for this winter day,
For every blade of grass that's planted
For things I often take for granted.

I'm grateful for each leafless tree,
So stark and lifeless though they be,
Reminding me that seasons wane, 
That winter shall not long remain,
That underneath this hard, hard ground,
A thousand buds of spring abound.

Immanuel

Normally, we put our Christmas decorations up over the first weekend in December. But let’s face it, 2020 has been far from normal for all of us.

With high street shops, pubs and restaurants closed for business until 2nd December, our town doesn’t have its normal November hustle and bustle. Apart from the occasional queues outside the post office, and the take-away coffee bars, everything is locked up, shutters down, lying dormant in darkness.

Many people that I’ve bumped into over the past few weeks have reacted in the same way. They’ve got this urge to dig out their Christmas decorations a mite earlier than normal – to bring a bit of Christmas cheer into this Covid winter gloom.

So when, on Friday evening, my two teenage girls suddenly said: “Mum, let’s get this party started!” and offered to put our Christmas Tree up, I decided not to argue. With countless birthday parties, youth events and social activities cancelled, these past few months have been particularly rough on them.

A little bit of Christmas fun – video put together by my daughters, Lydia & Grace

My favourite part of putting up the Christmas tree is that magical moment, when after half an hour of patient unravelling and walking round and round in circles, the lights have been carefully nestled amid the branches of the tree, and you get to flick on that switch and light up the room! I love the audible gasp of joy and wonder whenever this moment comes. It may sound obvious, but there is something so powerful, so comforting about light piercing through the darkness.

When that moment came for us this year, the words of a carol sprang to mind:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light

words from ‘O Little town of bethlehem’

Have you ever received one of those traditional Christmas cards that depicts that first Christmas, centuries ago? The crowded streets of Bethlehem, normally depicted in hues of rich dark purple and indigo, are illuminated by the contrasting glow of the bright gold star positioned directly above the stable where the baby Jesus is lying in the manger.

Those words, contained in a Christmas Carol that so many of us have sung since we were children – carry a depth of meaning that can so easily be missed.

You see, the star that shone in the east was not the Everlasting Light.

The baby was!

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight

That small child, that tiny, vulnerable newborn infant, wrapped tightly in white cloths and lying in a crude animal’s trough, was the long-awaited Messiah. The promised hope of all mankind – the Light of the World.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1:4-5

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the fullness of time, Christ the King, tore through the curtain of space and time, was made in human likeness, and entered the gloom and despair of a world that lay waiting in darkness!

So whether it’s November or April, or December 2020, it’s never too early or too late, or too dark, or too hopeless to celebrate. for behold, we have been given good news of great joy – the light has come!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord And this shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all men.

Luke 2:11-14

I hope you will take a moment to listen to this wonderful Christmas song, written and performed by Michael W Smith.

Lessons in Watercolour

Our eldest daughter Lydia, recently completed an A Level in Art. She did brilliantly well, and we were all extremely proud of her achievements. However, in order to complete her studies, she had to put in such an inordinate amount of time and effort, that she hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since. Isn’t is funny how the pressure of performance can zap our child-like enjoyment of creative pursuits?

art day!

A few weeks ago, on a lazy Saturday morning, Emily, our youngest, concocted a brilliant eight-year-old plan. “Mummy, let’s have an art day!” she said.

Even though inwardly, I had a mental to-do list as long as my right arm, and even though I suspected she was asking the wrong person, she looked so starry-eyed with excitement, that it was hard to refuse her enthusiasm. Lydia kindly offered us the use of her watercolour paper and paints, and so we set up a work space on the kitchen table, filled jars of water, and put on some relaxing music.

Embracing rest

When was the last time you dropped your to-do list and did something just for fun? It can be hard to carve out time for leisurely pursuits. Life is hectic – a constant whirlwind of rushing here and there. We have many urgent and important things to do. We often feel guilty for pressing the pause button, and for taking time out to do something recreational. But God created us with an inbuilt need to occasionally stop and do something which replenishes energy and lifts the spirits. There’s definitely some truth in the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Emily instinctively knows this. She spends most of her time playing! But as we grow up, we forget to do things just for fun. We forget how valuable it can be to kick through the leaves with the wind in our hair. We are all unique, and so what we find relaxing will differ. But whether it’s gardening, or baking or reading, or taking a walk in the woods, we all need times where we cease from our toil and do something which quite simply brings us joy.

Acknowledgements to the excellent video tutorials of Ellen Crimi-Trent

Go on, try something new!

Watercolour is one of those creative pursuits that I have always admired, but have never been brave enough to try. After all, it’s a notoriously difficult medium to work with. Mistakes can be difficult to rectify, especially if the colours should bleed or run in an undesirable way. Plus, it takes a great deal of practice to learn the various techniques required: how much water to apply, how to mix colours, how to use the brush to achieve different effects.

And yet, there’s a fluidity and freedom in a watercolour painting that is so soft and appealing to the eye. Whenever you watch a watercolour artist at work, it always looks so effortless!

Luckily for Emily and I, we didn’t have to search too far to find a wealth of information for beginners on the Internet, including a whole host of inspiring video tutorials to help get us started. We decided to start with some simple Christmas cards featuring snowy scenes and simple winter greenery.

And as the early autumn sunlight streamed through the kitchen windows, we spent a glorious few hours absorbed in our newfound pursuit. I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since I was a child. I had forgotten how much fun it can be!

But, I couldn’t help but notice some fundamental differences in our approach.

Emily was free – watching the tutorials, and then doing her own thing. Dipping her brush into the paint, and confidently applying it, without any reservation or rigidity. There seemed to be no caution in her young mind. She was lost in the moment, relishing the experience of expressive creativity. She created piece after piece in quick succession.

I tried my hand at a bunch of mistletoe. The tutorial looked easy enough. After several attempts, and wasted pieces of watercolour paper, I gave up. You see, I wanted to achieve perfection. But sadly, my efforts did not match up to the one on the video tutorial. And so I decided to try a wreath instead. Thankfully, this went a little better and inspired me to keep going.

The perfection perception

As adults, we can become so afraid to try something new, in case we fail. Our performance- mentality prevents us from just enjoying the moment. We live in an age where we are bombarded with airbrushed images of unachievable perfection. And it’s not just celebrities any more. There are dozens of very ordinary self-made Instagram celebrities who appear to have it all together. Their houses are like something out of Homes and Gardens Magazine, styled to make your mouth drop. Not a dirty cup, or an odd sock, or a pile of unfiled papers in sight. Their lives are also perfect – we know this because they video their every move. They post vlogs of their perfectly executed marriage proposals, or Christmas dinners, or gender reveal moments. Our children watch this stuff all the time. I keep reminding my teenage daughters that nobody’s life is perfect. We don’t see the time the pastry went spectacularly wrong, or the dog ran through the house with muddy paws. We don’t see the time they had a blazing row on the way to church. Life is messy. Mistakes happen. But God’s grace is abundant, and love covers a multitude of sins.

CHILDLIKE FAITH

2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

The story of salvation goes totally against the grain. God gives us Christ’s righteousness as a free gift! My attempts at perfection, fall hopelessly short. And so God, sent His one and only son, into a world full of sin and darkness, to live a sinless life, and to take my filthy rags upon himself on the cross. And in exchange, He gave me a robe of righteousness to wear. All I have to do is humble myself, stop striving, and receive it as a free gift. I am justified by faith alone. What a profound and incredible truth! We have been given a gospel of grace. We so often overcomplicate things, and mistakenly believe the lie that it’s all about our performance.

These humble Christmas cards that we’ve created, are a reminder to me, that because of Jesus, we are free indeed– free to rejoice in this good news of great joy!

A people walking in darkness have seen a great light – Isaiah 9:2

Today I invite you to celebrate the freedom that has been bought with a price for us. I encourage you to receive it with open arms, like a child receives a Christmas present. I hope today that you manage to find a little space to cease your toil and frantic activity and do something that brings you joy.

And maybe, who knows, you might even be inspired to try something new?

One Thing

to-do-list

Life is so busy.  Things to do.  Places to be.  People to see.  Errands to run.  Appointments to keep.  Sometimes our to-do lists can get seriously overloaded and the week ahead can start to resemble something akin to a military training schedule – you just grit your teeth and get through it!  Take me for instance – here is a list of some of the ‘appointments’ that have been in the Jelf family diary over the last two weeks: (I bet some of you can out-“do” me!?):

One doctors appointment

One infant vaccination appointment

One birthday party

Two grocery shops

One appointment with the school nurse

One hospital appointment

One lunch date with friends

Two Dinner dates at our house

Two Toddler Group outings

Two Youth Group outings

One Swimming trip

One Ice-skating trip

One Home-schooling Group Meeting

One parent’s evening

One Prayer Meeting

One Ladies Bible Study Group

Sometimes I think I should just sell the house and live in the car.  Sound familiar?  Phew!  It’s enough to make you dizzy, isn’t it?!  This week, my husband and I actually had to schedule in time to talk to one another!  I kid you not!  So much to do…so little time.   It can be hard to find time for each other. It can be hard to find time for ourselves.  It can be harder still to find time for God.

This morning I was reading Psalm 27, written by David, who was affectionately known as a ‘man after God’s own heart’.  It says:

“One thing I have asked of the Lord, that shall I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.”

David must have had a few appointments.  After all, he was the King!  He must have had a few things on his to-do list.  He probably DID have a military training schedule to attend to!  But his single wish, his heart’s desire was to pursue a relationship with God.  There was one place he wanted to be more than any other….in the presence of God.  One thing he wanted to do more than any other…to behold the beauty of the Lord – to catch a glimpse of His glory!  Later in the Psalms David writes “Better is one day in Your House, than thousands elsewhere“.  David yearned for the presence of God as one would thirst for water in a dry and parched land.  Only one thing could truly satisfy.

As I was reading the Psalm, I felt the Lord remind me of the well known story of Martha and Mary.  Martha and Mary were two ordinary women, who lived in an ordinary village.  On one particular day however, they had a far from ordinary appointment in their diary!    You see, Jesus was coming over to their house for dinner!  When Jesus arrived, Mary went and sat at His feet, listening to his teaching.  But poor old Martha.  No.  The story tells us that “Martha was distracted with much serving”.  She was probably rushing around trying to make sure everything was tidy, and working hard to put on a good spread.  And perhaps that would have been just fine with Jesus, if she had done it with a cheerful heart.  But….it wasn’t long before Martha got a bee in her bonnet.  She went up to Jesus and said “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her to help me!”  I can just see her, hand on hip, foot tapping, finger wagging.  Sadly, I can see me too.

And then came Jesus’ response.  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

There are so many things that can crowd in on us – crowding God out.  So many things shouting for our attention.  Appointments.  Chock-a-block-diaries.  Schedules.  Plans.  It’s so easy to become distracted.  Jesus’ words are still so apt today.  We can be anxious and troubled about so many things, when only one thing is necessary – a heart like Mary’s that chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and a heart like David’s that couldn’t think of anywhere on earth he’d rather be than in the courts of the King.

I know what you’re thinking.  Wait a minute.  We can’t just all sit around reading the bible all day.  Who would wash the socks?  Who would feed the children?  Not to mention the cat?  Who would do the shopping and the school run?  Martha had a point.  I mean, someone had to cook Jesus’ dinner.  But what I’m learning is,  it’s a heart thing.  Jesus wants us all to have a ‘one thing’ mentality, even during our crazy, hectic, full-on days!  It’s not about whether we’re busy or not – it’s about where our treasure is.  Our hearts desire should be firstly for Him.  Doesn’t God command us to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind?  Of course we have jobs to do.  Of course we need to pay the bills and tend to crying babies and mop dirty, sticky floors.  But I think it’s all about learning to love Him as we do.  It’s about worshipping Him in the car as we drive from A to B,  It’s about meditating on His goodness as we walk along the road to the shops.  It’s about thanking Him for His provision as we cook and eat dinner.  It’s about thanking Him morning by morning that His one single agenda was to come into our crazy, hectic world and to demonstrate His great love, by laying down His life, so that we could enjoy a relationship with Him for the rest of our days.

I have absolutely no idea why the King of glory would want a relationship with someone like me!  But He does.  He is so worthy of our devotion.  Let our prayer be like that of David: “Lord give me an undivided heart” – one that longs for you more than any other thing on earth.

Zacchaeus

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! – Psalm 32:1

zacchaeus-1
So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way…Luke 19:4

The streets of the city were crowded that day,

The Teacher was coming – He was heading this way.

My heart leapt within at the sound of His Name,

This man who healed lepers, the blind and the lame.

But the crowds all around me were blocking my view,

And try as I might, I just couldn’t push through.

There’s not much to be said for my stature – it’s true,

So I ended up right at the back of the queue!

Then ahead of the crowds in the distance, I see,

Down the long dusty road

There’s a Sycamore Tree,

I was desperate to see Him,

It had to be done,

So I kicked up the dust and I started to run!

My robes snagged on twigs as I scrambled up high,

And I hoped, against hope, that He’d not pass me by,

Still my heart skipped a beat when He stopped by that tree,

And He peered through the leaves,

Looking right up at me!

zacchaeus

What would He say to a man such as me?

What was I doing here?

How could it be?

That this wonderful stranger should call me by name?

In that moment, I knew, I would not be the same.

The people were outraged- He was going to eat,

At the home of Zacchaeus, the swindler, the cheat!

But whenever He spoke, all my pride fell apart,

Until something was changed in the depths of my heart.

The tears started falling, my heart overflowed,

I would pay it all back, every penny I owed.

I would give it all gladly,

I would do anything,

For this wonderful Man,

For this beautiful King!

The love that He showed me,

The grace that He gave,

Swept over my being, like wave upon wave,

What joy filled my soul, and what gladness within,

When the Son of God cleansed me,

From all of my sin.

Blooms In A Barrow

One of the great things about living in South East London, is having a myriad of different grocery shops to chose from, all within walking distance.

On route to my most regular choice of shop, I have the pleasure of walking through a small public garden – a lovely hidden gem, nestled in the middle of concrete pavements and busy traffic. I also walk through a couple of quiet, residential roads, with some pretty front gardens, which seem to be particularly abundant with colour this year.

One of them, in particular, always catches my eye! Standing proudly at the entrance to the property, is this wheelbarrow:

a barrow-full of surprises

Over the past few weeks I’ve watched the blooms inside this quirky container bud and flourish into an eye-catching display. Who knew a battered old wheelbarrow could become a thing of beauty? God’s glory can show up in some surprising places!

It inspired me, to scribble down these words in my notebook this morning:

Your new life within me,

Like blooms in a barrow,

Beauty for ashes,

And joy for my sorrow.

Redemption

The bible, from beginning to end, is a story of redemption – God delights in choosing the broken, the worthless, the foolish things of this world, in order to display His glory.

2 Corinthians 4:7 puts it this way:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

If you look closely at the wheelbarrow, you’d notice signs of its previous existence – the deeply ingrained scuffs and scratches, the splatters of cement or paint. It’s not perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely. What once was filled with rubbish, weighed down by its heavy load, is now brimming over with joyful beauty and vibrant colour. What a picture of God’s gracious handiwork in our lives!

THE GREAT EXCHANGE

Our wonderful God is the great exchanger:

  • Beauty for ashes
  • the oil of joy for mourning
  • a garment of praise instead of a spirit of heaviness
  • a robe of righteousness instead of filthy rags
  • glory instead of shame
  • perfect love instead of fear

The list just goes on and on. If you’re feeling worthless today, broken or weighed down with sin, then I have good news for you – you’re just the sort of person Jesus came to rescue! He doesn’t wait for you to ‘fix up’ before He adopts you into His family. The only thing you really need to be, is empty. Empty and willing to let a wise and loving Father transform your life into a testimony of redemption, all for His glory! Just like blooms in a barrow.

A Virus, a Census and a Saviour!

This time last week, along with many other parents, I was getting ready to go and collect our seven year old, Emily, from school, for the last time in the foreseeable future.

Bit by bit, over the last few weeks, we’ve come under stricter and stricter measures, in response to the Corona Virus Outbreak.

The UK is now on ‘lock-down’, with numbers of confirmed cases multiplying at an exponential rate. Just hours ago we learned that the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has himself contracted the virus and is now self-isolating – please do pray for him and his pregnant partner. Events are changing and unfolding at an alarming rate.

A month ago, phrases such as ‘lock-down’ were spoken only by actors, starring in Apocalyptic movies. Now they are part of our every day language

Everyone is talking about these ‘unprecedented’ times. A year ago, during prayer, God gave me the phrase…”All change!” Well it’s certainly feeling that way.

But could it be…could it possibly be…that in the midst of all this chaos, all of this disruption and upheaval, that God is still bringing about His Sovereign purposes on earth?

A Prophecy Fulfilled

One of the blessings of this lock-down, for me, has been the extended opportunity to study God’s word. I’ve decided to read through the gospel of Matthew.

In Chapter 2, Matthew quotes from the OT book of Micah, foretelling the birth-place of the Messiah.

And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a ruler, who will shepherd my people Israel.

Micah 2:5

In other words, roughly 700 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah foresees it – he speaks of a ruler, a shepherd of Israel, who will come forth from Bethlehem.

For those of us familiar with the Nativity, we know that Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth. So how on earth did Jesus come to be born in Bethlehem?

Through a governmental decree!

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who he was engaged to and who was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.

Luke 2:1-6

A governmental decree suddenly brings a sudden halt to business as usual, bringing about disruption and upheaval. Sound familiar?

Joseph has to down-tools, take his pregnant fiancée, and make something like a 90 mile journey to Bethlehem. This would have been an 8 or 9 day hike!

But this unusual event, this governmental edict, was the very vehicle that God used to bring about His Sovereign purpose! Through the decree of a Roman ruler, Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem – not by happen-stance, but by Sovereign design – to fulfil an ancient prophecy! How wonderful.

Could it be that right now, in our day, when governments all around the world are issuing decrees, not to leave, but rather to stay in our homes, that something deeper might be going on?

Is there a possibility, that even now, in these uncertain days, God could be bringing forth His wonderful purposes on earth?

A message for these times, photographed as I walked to the shop today

We’re all hearing the stories…

  • People are slowing down, reflecting and re-evaluating.
  • Families are eating meals together.
  • Children are enjoying time with their parents and siblings.
  • People are ditching their phones and re-discovering the beauty of reading, writing, painting, playing board games or doing jigsaw puzzles.
  • People are appreciating simple daily freedoms, such as going for a walk.
  • Parents and children are learning new things together at home.
  • Bird song is being heard in cities, normally drowned out by the daily din of traffic.
  • People are being kind to their neighbours, fetching groceries, setting up WhatsApp support groups to support those who are isolated.
  • People are starting to appreciate others, especially the doctors and nurses and other critical workers out on the frontline.
  • People are faced with the brevity of life.
  • People are faced with the instability of finance.
  • People are opening up their bibles, searching for guidance.
  • People are inviting others to Online Church Services or sharing messages of hope and encouragement.
  • A shaking is taking place. A humbling of hearts. A new openness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Yes it’s challenging. Yes, it’s tough. But let’s be in faith that through this unprecedented set of events, God is still on the throne. He is not shaken. Neither is He perplexed. He is absolutely faithful to all of His promises, and right now, I believe, He is doing something significant in the earth.

Let’s hope that we don’t miss His heartbeat, but yield to whatever lesson He is teaching us. Let’s pray that we come out of this season more conformed into His image.

Let’s be confident, that right now, even though things seem so chaotic, so out of our control, that just like the time of our Saviour’s birth, God is bringing about His Sovereign purposes on Earth. Lord, Thy will be done.

One Storm, Two Kinds of Fear

On that day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was. And other boats were with Him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing? And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still! And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Mark 4:35-41

Squalls & Storms!

This morning, as we find ourselves in the grip of a growing global health crisis,’ I believe this is such a word in season.

We know the story well. The disciples and Jesus are sailing across the Sea of Galilee, when all of a sudden, a great wind-storm arises. In the book of Matthew, the word ‘squall’ is used, which means a sudden violent wind, or localised storm, especially one bringing rain, snow or sleet.

Isn’t it strange how suddenly trouble can arise? One minute it’s Happy New Year, and the next…we’re lurching from one crisis to the next. Wildfires. Climate change. Plagues of locusts. Deadly viruses. Storms, both literal and metaphoric, are by nature, sudden, violent and unpredictable. And they seem to be increasing in these days.

Don’t You Care?

The waves were ‘breaking into the boat’, and the boat was ‘already’ filling with water. This was not just a risky situ, this was imminent, life-threatening danger. And where was Jesus? Asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat!

The disciples on the other hand, were quite understandably, panicking!

They wake Jesus up, seemingly bemused, as to why He isn’t doing anything!

“Don’t you care that we are perishing?” they say.

Now, perhaps Jesus was in such a deep sleep that He genuinely didn’t realise there was a full-scale hullabaloo going on! But the interesting point is, when He wakes up, He doesn’t immediately start trying to bail out the water and join in the panic. Neither does He apologise for being asleep. At no point does Jesus become subject to the storm.

In the Grip of Fear

Have you noticed how quickly fear can spread? Believe me, it can escalate much faster than any virus! When you witness people fighting and screaming over toilet-roll in the supermarket, you begin to understand just how noxious fear can be.

But have you ever noticed there are two types of fear in this passage?

First we witness the fear of the storm. Highly understandable in many ways. The boat was taking a pounding, it was filling up with water. If things didn’t change very quickly, it was only going one way….Down into the depths.

Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceases and there is a great calm.

There are no words to describe how awesome this must have been.

And then Jesus addresses the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

It’s incredible, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t immediately comfort these traumatised disciples, He challenges them! “Why are you so afraid?” Haven’t you seen enough of My power, of My great love and compassion – are you still not yet convinced?

A Different Kind of Fear

And then the scripture tells us that they are filled with GREAT FEAR, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him?”

Suddenly they are gripped with the right kind of fear. It’s called the Fear of the Lord. It’s a reverential, awestruck submission. It’s the kind of fear that realises that God is infinitely Higher, and greater and Holier than I could ever imagine -that everything He says and everything He does is always just and right and true. It’s the kind of fear that caused the apostle John to fall down like a dead man at the sight of the Resurrected Jesus, and Isaiah to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”

Right in this jaw-dropping moment, when all of a sudden the raging sea with it’s high and lofty billows becomes as calm as a millpond, the disciples suddenly SEE. They realise who the real King is.

Sunset over Lake Garda, Italy, August 2018

They see that all along they have been in the boat with someone so powerful, so glorious, so incomprehensible, that they are absolutely undone. All of a sudden, they are filled with the right kind of fear. Internally, they fall to their knees, as they now perceive that the One who stands before them is utterly powerful, absolutely in control, and ultimately worthy of all worship, honour, and glory. Suddenly they are no longer afraid of the storm, because they’ve just locked eyes with the storm-stopper!

So in the midst of this very real crisis, let’s ask God to help us not to give in to fear and panic. Despite the rising water level, despite the numbers of confirmed cases increasing by the hour, despite the chaos we can see all around us & the media overplaying, (or politicians underplaying) things, and despite the ensuing panic and disruption that may well come, let’s press on, rebuking the storm and trusting in the storm-stopper!

In these stormy times, in the face of this sudden squall, I pray we will be governed by the right kind of fear, the fear of the Lord, which so wondrously displaces any other.

With Every Setting Sun…

Sunrise, Porthpean, Cornwall, Oct 2018

Happy New Year, dear Readers!

So here we are! Jan 2nd, 2020.

A new month. A new year. A new decade!

I don’t know about you, but I always find New Year a bit strange. Whether it’s a fireworks display, a party, or even just a quiet night in, watching Jules Holland on TV, inevitably, the big moment comes…

The countdown… For those of us in the UK, the arrival of the New Year is usually marked by the familiar sound of Big Ben chiming – and with each resounding BONG, we find ourselves joining in the chant – “ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one….”

And then, with great gusto, we’re off! Pulling those strings on our party-poppers and shouting HAPPY NEW YEAR!

And to the sound of Auld Lang Syne, off we go, kissing and hugging everyone – & I mean EVERYONE – (even people we hardly know) and wishing them a Happy New Year.

And there’s that weird sense of anticipation… In one moment, in a single second, we’ve collectively crossed over a threshold. There are so many analogies, aren’t there? A blank page. A new chapter. A brand new book! A fresh start. A clean slate. Ring out the old, ring in the new.

Resolutions are made.

This is the year I’m going to: ______________________ (you fill in the blank!)

And there’s that feeling, isn’t there? Things really ought to be different. Yesterday is gone. A line is firmly drawn under last year. Now, things can only get better.

And then quick as a flash, magazines start to appear, with their New Year slogans:

  • New Year, New Start!
  • Ten steps to a brand new you!
  • New Year Detox – A Diet you can finally stick to!

It sounds good, doesn’t it? Inspiring. But…deep down inside, there’s this underlying sense of reality. Nothing significant has actually changed. You look in the mirror. Same face. Same need to face the day. The washing up needs doing. That old pile of ironing…yep. It’s still there.

Special as it is, Jan 1st is just another day. You don’t wake up any different. In reality, you’re just the same old you.

And by about January 17th, usually once you’ve broken your resolve and stuffed your face with the remnants of a box of chocolates you forgot you had, it can all feel like a bit of a let-down. It’s just the same old, same old.

BUT, dear Reader Friends, there is good news!

It beautifully dawned on me yesterday whilst I was driving. I had my worship playlist on in the car. And all of a sudden as I was pondering what the New Year might have in store…I heard these words:

Your mercies are new, over and over,

Your mercies are new, over and over,

As surely as the morning comes, You’re faithful!

I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,

I’ll sing of Your love, over and over,

I’ll sing with every setting sun,

You’re faithful!

(Over and Over, by Chris McClarney, from the 2018 album, ‘Breakthrough’)

Sunset over Lake Garda, August, 2019

This is what the word of God says:

The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER CEASES,

His mercies NEVER COME TO AN END

They are NEW EVERY MORNING,

Great is Thy Faithfulness!

Lamentations 3:23

With the dawning of every day, regardless of whether it’s 1st January, or 25th April, or 7th September…each and every day that I live and breathe, I’m given a fresh start. A gift! A brand new day, with new mercies to be found. Not yesterday’s leftovers. Nope. God’s mercies are new every morning. Oh sweet truth!

I might start the new year with good intentions…only to fail. But my God, He never fails. He never grows weary. His steadfast love never ceases. His mercies don’t run out of puff. They are always fresh, always new. Never failing, never ceasing. And with every setting sun, if I’m intentional enough to count my blessings, I’ll be able to say, “Great is Thy faithfulness!”

Praise God for this beautiful truth!

Happy New Day!

Thirsty!

I love a good game of Spot the difference, don’t you?…

Have a good look at these two sets of pictures. They are both photos of the tomato plants that I’m currently trying to grow.

Now tell me…what’s the difference?

Water.

That’s the difference! Set one is a photo of my tomato plants when I got back from my holiday a few weeks back. (What a sad and sorrowful sight!)

Set two is a photo of my tomato plants the following morning, after a great big, refreshing drink of water.

It’s remarkable, isn’t it?!

I don’t think I’ve ever come across plants that are quite as thirsty as these. If you forget to water them for a single day, they literally droop and wilt and look all but dead.

But give them a good old glug of water, and half an hour later, they completely revive!

Thirsty?

Have you ever been thirsty? Have you ever experienced that dryness in your mouth and throat, that feeling of agitation, of desperation, where all you can think about is water?

The trouble is, just like my tomato plants, one drink of water is not enough. We need to keep drinking in order to survive.

The Woman at the Well

Jesus had an interesting chat with a woman at a well once. They were talking about water. I guess when you’re standing at a well, water is a fairly obvious thing to talk about. In fact, Jesus dares to ask the woman to draw him some water.

According to the gospel of John, this rather surprises the woman:

You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews and Samaritans do not associate with one another).

John 4:9

Jesus answers her:

If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

John 4:10

Ok, what is Jesus doing here? He’s gone from talking about H2O – literal, physical water- to something entirely spiritual.

LIVING WATER.

The conversation twists and turns like this for a while, with the Samaritan woman still not really seeing, not really perceiving.

Jesus says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become to them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Through a series of further interchanges, Jesus lovingly draws this woman out. It’s as if He sees right into the depths of her heart and reveals all the emptiness within. This woman has been desperately thirsty. She’s been searching for years and years – desperately yearning – for a love that lasts – that really satisfies. Jesus sends the bucket right deep down into the depths of her soul. Why? Not to make her feel ashamed. But because He knows her lack. He really, truly sees her. He rightly discerns that she’s had five husbands. And that she’s not married to her current lover. This woman cannot seem to find what she’s looking for. She cannot seem to quench her thirst. She’s placing all her hope in human relationships, going from husband to husband, lover to lover – looking for true love and happiness, where it just can’t be found. It’s like she’s got this desperate, insatiable thirst.

Empty Wells

Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again…

Are you thirsty today? Are you searching down an empty well?

Money. Sex. Relationships. Fame and popularity. Success. Likes on Social Media. Drugs. Booze. Possessions. Houses. Careers. Ambitions fulfilled. Children. Family. Clothes. Holidays.

All of these things can fill a void temporarily. But the trouble is, they won’t bring lasting satisfaction.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these things aren’t BAD in themselves. Some of these things are gifts from God, meant to be enjoyed. But the point is, sometimes we focus on the gift, forgetting that the most beautiful thing about a gift, is the giver.

There is nothing on earth that can fill the God-shaped void within each one of us. These things may momentarily quench something within our souls. But they will always, always leave us thirsting for more.

Living Water

The good news is, God wants to give us His LIVING WATER – What’s Living Water? The type of water that fully satisfies. The type of drink that puts an end to all our searching. We will never find lasting satisfaction in the temporal, in the carnal, in the things we spend our time and money acquring, the things we try to hopelessly keep stuffing into the empty places.

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:2-3

At last, the Samaritan woman finds it! She finds the living Water as she talks with Jesus at the well. She comes to understand that HE is the living water – He is the end of all our thirsting. When we meet Jesus, and fully understand who He is, and the gift of salvation that He brings, we will never thirst again. Rivers of LIVING WATER will flow from our inner most being. If you’re thirsty today, then the following invitation, from Jesus, is for you…

‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’

John 7:37-39